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Why Western New York is a special place for fish and fishing

Why Western New York is a special place for fish and fishing

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Mark Davis

Mark Davis, host of "Big Water Adventures" on the Outdoor Channel, caught this big lake trout fishing the Niagara Bar on his last visit to Western New York in 2019. 

If you are new to fishing, you need to understand how special Western New York is. WNY is often referred to as one of the top freshwater angling destinations in the world, offering a wide diversity of fish species, as well as the potential for an angler to catch a personal best for any of those species.

In the last 10 years, a radius of 30 miles around Buffalo has annually drawn the attention of bass anglers from around the country.

The most recent recognition comes from the Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society through Bassmaster Magazine, which last year created a Top 25 bass fishing spots for the decade. Lake Erie (with a huge emphasis on Buffalo-Niagara) landed solidly at No. 3 … for the country. The only time our area fell out of the Top 10 for the more traditional annual Top 100 list was in 2015 and 2018.

The reason for the acknowledgement is the world-class smallmouth bass fishing. It does not get any better than the New York waters of Lake Erie, combined with the Niagara River. The allure of those feisty fish attracts anglers from all over the globe. Lake Erie also offers a special season for bass fishing, too. While the rest of the state is catch and release only from Dec. 1 to the Friday before the third Saturday in June (artificial lures only), Lake Erie allows for one bass with a minimum length of 20 inches during that time frame, and live bait can be used. While most bass are released, the potential is there to reel in a state-record fish any time during the year.

Earlier this year, Abu Garcia, one of the top fishing equipment manufacturers in the world, celebrated its 100th anniversary. It selected a panel of fishing industry experts to determine the Top 100 Fisheries in the country. The list was meant to focus on waters that deliver both quality and quantity for a wide variety of fish species. Lake Erie was No. 3 on the list. New York was one of four states mentioned in the compilation and one of the reasons is the tremendous walleye population that now inhabits this Great Lake. Experts now estimate walleye numbers to be more than 150 million fish.

It is worth noting that No. 1 on the Abu Garcia list was the St. Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands, a tribute to the Empire State and its wealth of angling real estate within its borders.

“The truth is, whatever fishery makes an angler excited to be fishing, that’s the top fishery in the country,” said Jon Schlosser, Abu Garcia’s senior vice president of marketing. “But the fisheries on the list, especially those in the Top 10, really separate themselves from the rest of the group for different reasons.

“In a country full of amazing angling opportunities from coast to coast, these are the places that really shine. It’s on these fisheries and others like them where new anglers will experience the kind of success that propels them to a lifetime of fishing, and where necessity will drive innovation so that the next 100 years of Abu Garcia history is as celebrated as the first 100 years.”

Less than a decade ago, two small Lake Ontario fishing communities were paid the “ultimate” compliment. In 2012, the hamlet of Olcott Beach was named the “Ultimate Fishing Town” by the World Fishing Network in a nationwide search of top fishing hotspots. The following year, it was the neighboring county of Orleans and the hamlet of Point Breeze that received the “Ultimate Fishing Town” nod from WFN. Both towns have a national reputation for outstanding salmon and trout fishing throughout the year.

We also need to consider the Niagara River, especially below Niagara Falls. The mighty waterway offers year-round angling opportunities for every species that swims in the Great Lakes and it is all surrounded by spectacular scenery. If you have not tried it, it should be on your bucket list.

Some of the top outdoor media professionals in the country will be visiting Western New York next month. Among them are Steve Quinn, of Minnesota, with In-Fisherman; and Mark Davis, of South Carolina, with the “Big Water Adventure” TV show. 

“Without a doubt, a visit to the Buffalo/Niagara area is the highlight of my fishing calendar,” Quinn said. “Not only do Lake Erie and the mouth of the Niagara River offer amazing action for big smallmouth bass – including my personal best smallie at 7 pounds, 5 ounces – but there are outstanding opportunities for lake trout, steelhead and walleyes. At times we have gotten into big brown trout, Coho salmon and king salmon within a few miles of the river. One afternoon, I battled a giant sturgeon for over an hour before the line broke. It is the ‘trip of a lifetime’ every time I come out.”

In addition to Quinn catching his personal-best bass, he has also caught personal-best lake trout and brown trout during past travels to the Niagara Frontier.

Davis, host of the No. 1 rated fishing show on the Outdoor Channel, had this to say about Western New York: “I travel literally from Alaska to Australia every year chasing the best bites, biggest fish, and cover the most amazing fishing destinations in the world. The only reason I am telling you that is because for the last 25 years (except 2020 because of travel restrictions) I have been in Western New York the first week of May. Many times, it is for two weeks.

“Between the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario and the Niagara River, it is simply, flat out, amazing. Smallmouth, walleye, perch, lake trout, salmon, steelhead, and a host of other species are literally daily choices and often cross over into your catch no matter what I target. In addition to the world-class fishery, the people, restaurants, scenery and overall tourist-friendly environment makes Western New York a place you must go more than once, and I must go every year. See y'all soon."

Both Quinn and Davis will be part of an outdoor media group that will be in the region May 2-7 for some of the area’s top-notch action for a wide variety of fish species.

Being new to the WNY fishing scene puts you at a bit of a disadvantage. One of the best ways to learn is to join a fishing club. For Lake Ontario, the Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Association tops the list at lotsa1.org. For Lake Erie walleye, join the Southtowns Walleye Association of WNY (southtownwalleye.com). There are several different bass clubs to choose from, too. If fly-fishing is your interest, you have the WNY Chapter of Trout Unlimited (wnytroutunlimited.org) and the Lake Erie Chapter of Fly Fishers International (lake-erie-fff.org).

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